A new McCarthyism?

US Senator Joseph McCarthy went down in history for the wrong reasons. Around 1950 he led an anti-communist campaign in the United States, an undertaking which is often described as a witch hunt. The paranoia and persecution of allegedly subversive individuals, with real or imaginary connections to the Soviet Union and communist ideology, led to espionage charges and privacy invasion practices, destroying the lives of intellectuals, artists, government and army officials.

McCarthyism has become synonymous with stigmatization, the limitation of civil rights, and brainless anti-communism in the name of 'patriotism'. Almost seven decades later, the wind blowing from the US shows some similarities with this period, now in the form of 'technological McCarthyism', and with Huawei, China, and even Chinese citizens living in the US as targets.

Authorities, think tanks and politicians converge on a narrative which not only places the Chinese telecommunications giant on the dock of public opinion, but also throws suspicion on social, cultural, professional and academic ties involving Chinese organizations and even individuals. The Hoover Institution document published in late November 2018 - just a few days before the arrest of the Huawei financial director and in the midst of a trade 'war' - reflects a dangerous pathway in which legitimate concerns are mixed with an ill-informed principle of absolute mistrust against China. The politicization of any kind of relationship with China poisons the environment, entails enormous risks and denotes irresponsibility, reversing the course of decades of exchange and bridge building. The Donald Trump Administration thus shows it is committed to destroying bridges and building walls, exporting - to allies in Europe and the Asia Pacific - an agenda targeted at Chinese technological power.

The emergence of China and the more assertive way it has been conducting its foreign policy create anxiety, worries and fears. And Beijing must do more with regard to intellectual property rights and the transparency of both state-owned and private companies. It is also true that the detention of Canadian citizens in mainland China - in an apparent retaliation for the Meng Wanzhou case - does not help.

However, the anti-China hysteria spreading in the US and among some of its allies is waking up old ghosts and casting dark clouds over peace and international security. The beast of nationalism and intolerance feeds on this poison. We need to find the antidote.